While there was no debate, there was plenty of discussion Tuesday as Rep. Fentrice Driskell‘s Abandoned African American Cemeteries bill unanimously passed the House Government Operations Subcommittee.
The bill (HB 1215) would create a Historic Cemeteries Program within the Division of Historical Resources to coordinate research, repair, restoration, and maintenance efforts at abandoned African American cemeteries. It also creates a Historic Cemeteries Advisory Council and makes it easier for the state to preserve rediscovered cemeteries.
Driskell drafted the bill based on a report from the Task Force on Abandoned African American Cemeteries. Driskell served on and helped start the task force. She and Sen. Janet Cruz sponsored legislation last year to create the task force after a 2019 Tampa Bay Times investigation that helped uncover a forgotten cemetery beneath a city-owned housing development. That led to the rediscovery of several segregated cemeteries in Florida meant to inter Black residents.
“Historically, African American cemeteries were not subject to regulations, up keeping and other necessary efforts to uphold the dignity of the deceased as compared to their counterparts,” Driskell said. “Moreover, the land on which African American cemeteries were contained at times was sold without any regard to those who were buried there. We now find our chance as a state to continue to work together to honor those who were forgotten and oftentimes degraded.”